Lawyer in Saddam trial afraid to appear

Exclusive interview with lawyer defending former Iraqi Deputy PM Tareq Aziz.

saddam 88 (photo credit: )
saddam 88
(photo credit: )
His voice sounds tired over the telephone. But then things have been pretty bad recently for Badie Izzat Aref, who is representing Iraq's former deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Tareq Aziz, at the Iraqi Special Tribunal. One of his colleagues has already been murdered.

"We are afraid, maybe they will kill us also," he said in a phone call from Amman, where he is meeting this week with the defense lawyers for Saddam Hussein and others from his regime. "We don't have protection. I don't have guards. I drove my own car to work and home."

Following the murder last Friday of Saadoun al-Janabi, who was representing Awad Hamad al-Bandar, the former chief judge of Saddam's Revolutionary Court, Aref and his colleagues decided on Wednesday to halt their dealings with the tribunal.

"I will not go to the court till they apprehend the killers," said Aref, who visits his client in a US detention center at Camp Cropper once a week. "I told Mr. Tareq [Aziz] about this and he agreed."

A statement from Khalil Duleimi, the head of Saddam's defense team, sent by fax to The Associated Press, cited "extreme deterioration of the security situation in Iraq, and the repercussions facing the Iraqi defense team and their families" as a reason for the lawyers' decision.

The trial of Saddam and his co-defendants opened October 19. Janabi was kidnapped by gunmen wearing police and military uniforms who walked into his Baghdad office the following day. Hours later, his tortured body was found on a sidewalk near a Baghdad mosque.

Aref said his client would not be testifying against Hussein. "I asked [Aziz], 'Will you be a witness against Saddam Hussein?' He said: 'Never. Not against Saddam Hussein nor against anyone else.'"

Aref accused the tribunal of being unjust.

"This court is not legal, because it is a trial by the Americans who came to our country and they pushed for it and they are telling the judges what to do," he said.

Regardless of his lack of participation in the tribunal, Aref is not without work. This week he took up the case of Izzedin al-Majed, a cousin of Saddam, who defected in 1995 and received asylum in the UK. Last year Majed was arrested near Fallujah and accused of funding the insurgency.

Aref said Majed was invited to dinner and was picked up randomly, but kept because then interim prime minister Ayad Allawi did not like statements he made to the Arab press.

Aref is also the lawyer for Dr. Hoda Ammash, the only female on the US list of 55 most wanted Iraqis. He said since she was arrested in 2003 she had not been charged and he was not allowed to meet with her.

Separately, Aref commented on the US allegations this week that his client, Aziz, told members of a US Senate subcommittee that British MP George Galloway was given money from the Iraqi government.

The report added that Aziz said Galloway expressed concern about the appearance of taking money directly from the Iraqi government, but that in December 1999 he asked for an increase in his oil allocations. Aziz told investigators there was a slight increase, "but not very much."

"I saw [Aziz] on Wednesday," said Aref. "He said it's a lie and that he never said that Galloway was taking money from Iraq."